Carl R. Lavender, Jr. has been appointed to the newly created leadership role of Chief Equity Officer, focused on applying a race equity lens to all the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg’s work and policy positions. He shares insights about his vision and responsibilities of the new role, below.
What are some of your responsibilities in this new role?
My primary role is to incorporate race equity planning and considerations throughout the entire organization, from grantmaking and community investment to policy and finance and communications.
How does a community become skilled at making positive social change, such as advancing race equity?
A community becomes more skilled one person at a time. Social change making is an applied community skill. It happens when a critical mass of individuals have acquired a range of skills that are required. Movement building happens when strategic effort is made to bring together and deploy those trained individuals in teams across areas where change is needed. Areas such as policy and practices that impact health, employment, education, and housing. The Foundation supports this work and is now building measurements and dashboards to track our progress.
What is your hope or vision for the next generation of Black residents of Pinellas County?
My hope is the city of St. Petersburg will become a model city in all things race related. My hope is that the demand for race equity will mean removing once and for all the many obstacles and the unjust and unequal access to resources that have historically held people back in the Black community. That the next generation has the right to thrive because they get what they need and aren’t blocked from opportunities.
What is the best place to begin for those who are just starting on the race equity journey?
Self-analysis and self-exploration. You can begin with having a deep conversation about who you are, prompted by some experience or moment that says change is needed. We all have a racial autobiography. Those who determine that change is needed will be welcomed with open arms to join the race equity movement. The Foundation has resources to help everyone advance in their journey of understanding and awareness.
Are you optimistic about our local capacity to achieve the systems change necessary to eliminate structural racism?
I am neither optimistic or pessimistic. I’m a realist. Changing some of the deep-seated feelings human beings have about black, brown, and white skin, and addressing the structural racism in our systems, will take time. But this is a moment of great opportunity and promise. People who have been fighting for systems change and working on anti-racism for a long time are observing a new awareness among those who have not been engaged before. The fact that the Foundation has trained hundreds of people in the Courageous Conversations about Race protocol, and that thousands come to programs about racism and its impact on health and well-being in our community means something. This opens a pathway for change.